Howard Fergus is amongst a very small minority of Montserratians. He lives in Montserrat. Emigration has taken generations away and the 1997 eruption of Soufrière destroyed two-thirds of its habitable space, its economy and drove the majority of its inhabitants into exile. The poems in Volcano Verses express the confidence that island life and folk will outlast volcanic tantrums, that though ‘Tonight Chances pique still grows/...But cattle low and egrets ride/ Inspite of fire from mountain tides’.
But what Fergus seems to be doing in the book is writing against the absences, writing into being again the people who have gone, the landscape utterly transformed, the society fragmented. The eruption has instigated the sternest truth-telling, the sense of a world purified, but it has also prompted a hugely heightened consciousness of the importance of the seemingly trivial, the myriad social interactions, the sounds, the smells of a literally vanished world. It is the very absences, the restriction of current possibility that drives Fergus to greater abundance of creation, in the conversational, muscular rhythms, the serious word-play that characterise his most mature and distinctive collection yet.
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Sir Howard Fergus was born in Montserrat. He is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Cotton Rhymes (1976), Green Innocence (1978) and Stop the Carnival (1980).
Published: 20 November 2003